U.S. Attorney's Office
Eastern District of New York
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April 20, 2015

Long Island Man Sentenced to 25 Years in Prison for Attempting to Join al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula

Earlier today at the federal courthouse in Central Islip, New York, Marcos Alonso Zea, also known as “Ali Zea,” an American citizen and resident of Brentwood, New York, was sentenced to 25 years in prison following his September 9, 2014, guilty plea to attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, also known as Ansar al-Sharia (collectively AQAP), and obstruction of justice.

The sentencing was announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; John Carlin, Assistant Attorney General, National Security Division; Diego Rodriguez, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), New York Field Office; and William J. Bratton, Commissioner, New York City Police Department (NYPD).

Beginning in the fall of 2011, Zea planned to travel overseas in order to wage violent jihad against the perceived enemies of Islam, which included the government of Yemen and its allies. In furtherance of his plot, on January 4, 2012, Zea boarded a flight at John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) in Queens, New York, to London, England, en route to Yemen. Zea was not permitted to transit onward from London, however, and was returned to the United States by British authorities. Zea was interviewed and closely surveilled by investigators following his return. Despite being prevented from traveling to Yemen, Zea continued to plot, including by encouraging and supporting his co-conspirator, Justin Kaliebe, who also was planning to travel to fight jihad. In January 2013, Kaliebe was arrested at JFK while attempting to travel to Yemen to join AQAP1. Months later, after learning that he too was under investigation, Zea caused electronic media on his computer to be destroyed in an effort to obstruct the investigation. Notwithstanding his efforts, a forensic examination of Zea’s electronic media subsequently conducted by investigators revealed an assortment of violent Islamic extremist materials, including issues of Inspire magazine, part of AQAP’s English-language media operations.

“Marcos Alonso Zea presents a chilling reminder of the danger presented to the United States by homegrown terrorists. Born, raised, and schooled in the United States, the defendant nevertheless betrayed his country by attempting to join al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, assisting a co-conspirator’s attempt to join that terrorist group, and, after learning he was under investigation, attempting to destroy evidence of his guilt,” stated U.S. Attorney Lynch. “We will continue to work tirelessly to protect our national security from all enemies, both foreign and domestic.” Ms. Lynch expressed her grateful appreciation to all the members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and the New York City Police Department, Intelligence Division, for their work on the investigation.

“One of our highest priorities is to protect our country by identifying, disrupting, and holding accountable those who provide or attempt to provide material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin. “This sentence serves unambiguous notice that attempting to travel abroad to engage in such conduct has significant consequences.”

“The threat from al-Qaeda is real, look no further than Marcos Zea. Zea betrayed our country, attempting to first join al-Qaeda. When that failed, he helped others wage jihad. We continue working relentlessly to disrupt the plans of those who look to do us harm,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Rodriguez.

Police Commissioner Bratton said, “The New York City Police Department will continue to work closely with our federal counterparts to identify and arrest homegrown terrorists like Marcos Alonso Zea, and ensure all extremists bring no harm to American soil, especially here in New York City.”

The government’s case is being prosecuted jointly by the Office’s National Security and Cybercrime Section and the Long Island Criminal Division. Assistant United States Attorneys Seth D. DuCharme, John J. Durham, and Michael P. Canty are in charge of the prosecution, with assistance provided by Trial Attorney Kelli Andrews of the Counterterrorism Section of the Department of Justice.

The Defendant:

  • MARCOS ALONSO ZEA (a/k/a “Ali Zea”)
  • Age: 26
  • Brentwood, New York

1 Kaliebe subsequently pled guilty to one count of attempting to provide material support to terrorists and one count of attempting to provide material support to AQAP. Kaliebe is pending sentence by United States District Judge Denis R. Hurley in Central Islip.

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